Message of the missile

On Friday, Sept. 23, the day before the national peace march in Washington, I walked onto the Chapel Quad to discover a large missile on top of the pedestal ordinarily occupied by the statue of James B. Duke, which had been temporarily removed for cleaning. The art installation had been erected at 5 a.m. that morning as a protest against the Iraq War by a group of students led by Rita Bergmann, a senior cultural anthropology major, and Rann Bar-On, a third-year math graduate student.

Their press release detailed the bizarre contrasts and similarities between the Neocons' failed war in the Persian Gulf and their failed response to the hurricane disaster in our own Gulf. Red fabric around the base of the 15-foot missile symbolized "a sea of blood." White paper covered the pedestal, allowing viewers to write their responses with permanent markers. I took the opportunity to add my favorite slogan, "How did our oil get under their sand?" and my favorite website,

Later that evening the students dismantled the missile symbolizing "the dismantling of U.S. military infrastructure built in Iraq and around the world." Saturday, they went to the Washington peace rally, which received little media coverage despite having over 200,000 protesters. The mainstream media gave equal time to the announcement of the anti-peace rally scheduled to occur the following day with attendance predictions of 20,000 counter-protesters. Subsequently, very little coverage was given to the fact that only 200 people showed up on Sunday to support the war effort.

Similar anti-war sentiment was demonstrated Monday, October 10, at a public forum sponsored by the local Democratic Party entitled "How do we get out of Iraq? Stay the Course vs. Out Now." A standing-room-only crowd of 800 in the Chapel Hill High School auditorium voiced their unanimous approval of comments made by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern comparing the situation in Iraq to the "quagmire" of Vietnam. He reminded us the only way we got out of Vietnam was that Congress cut off the funding in response to plummeting public support for the war.

With historical amnesia, the Senate just passed a new defense budget (97 to 0) providing an extra $50 billion to "stay the course" in Iraq while starting to slash the funding for many social programs that support working class people in this country. Symbolic of this disconnect, even Democratic Congressman David Price, who voted against the war in the first place, was resistant to committing to an immediate timetable for withdrawal at the public forum, What will it take for the politicians to get the message or for students at Duke and elsewhere to become as politically active as those in the 1960s?

What if the next terrorist attack in this country is blamed on the Iranians? Then the Neocons preemptively invade Iran and reinstitute the draft. Would that wake up the college campuses? Ray McGovern offered a powerful poem from Rudyard Kipling as his closing statement. Kipling had written "Common Ground" upon the death of his own son after coercing him to fight in WWI. "If any question why we died, Tell them, because our fathers lied."

These days it depends on how you define "lied." Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the 1960s, admitted making "mistakes" regarding Vietnam in the Oscar-winning 2003 documentary, The Fog of War. Colin Powell, who last month publicly regretted his 2003 address to the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction as a "blot" on his record, is coming to Duke Nov. 4 to give the inaugural address for the new Rubenstein Hall at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy. Neither men mentioned lying or guilt. I wonder what General Powell will say here at Duke?

At the reception following the unveiling of the newly polished statue of James B. Duke on Founder's Day, President Brodhead mentioned there was a statue at Yale that the students used to decorate creatively every week. He noted such rebellious self-expression did not occur very frequently here at Duke. Perhaps it is time to show him differently. There is an old Quaker saying, "Speak Truth to Power." That is the message of the missile.

Dr. Larry Burk, Trinity '77, is a physician in Durham. This will be his final column.


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